Ashanti Morgan

Constructing Effective Online-Learning Environments via the Community of Inquiry (CoI) Framework

As designers developing online courses, we’re always looking for purposeful ways to ensure that the instructor, content, and student interactions are strategic, cohesive, and meaningful.

What’s more, we are also tasked with staying abreast of and introducing faculty to research, theories, and methodology associated with constructing rigorous and effective online pedagogy.

At the 27th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning, the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework was the focus of several sessions including sessions from Northwestern University, the University of Illinois Springfield, and Capella University. Intrigued by the implications of the framework, I wanted to learn more about the framework’s efficacy in higher education.

The premise of the CoI framework suggests that creating an effective online experience requires a collaborative community. The CoI framework, developed by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) is defined as follows:

An educational community of inquiry is a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding.

The Community of Inquiry theoretical framework represents a process of creating a deep and meaningful (collaborative-constructivist) learning experience through the development of three interdependent elements—social, cognitive, and teaching presence.

  • Social presence is “the ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop inter-personal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities” (Garrison, 2009).
  • Teaching Presence is the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001).
  • Cognitive Presence is the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001).

CoI is a framework that many higher-education institutions cite to inform, and in some cases measure, the effectiveness of online-course development.

The granular elements of the CoI Framework are listed in the table below. The “categories” and “indicators” provide explicit examples of how , the CoI model elements can be interpreted by an online-course designer.

Garrison D, Arbaugh J. Researching the community of inquiry framework: Review, issues, and future directions. Internet & Higher Education [serial online]. July 2007;10(3):157-172.

In 2007, a peripheral resource, the CoI survey instrument was developed and ultimately, validated. This survey instrument correlates with the CoI framework and is being utilized in studies at some institutions as an end-of-course evaluative tool.

As a course designer, I’m always looking for ways to equip faculty with a slew of resources to get the wheels turning as they think through the course content and design.

For some professors, it can seem intimidating at the outset of development to segue from teaching face-to-face to online. It’s especially challenging to identify strategies that will translate to meaningful online teaching presence. One strategy to brainstorm ideas for not only teaching presence but cognitive and social as well is utilizing the CoI framework elements to flesh out assessments and learning activities that align with each.

For example, with social presence, the professor can structure discussions via group cohorts that are led by a weekly discussion leader. This strategy allows students to establish a rapport with the cohort members. Additionally, students are empowered and accountable for the content they are charged with leading during their respective week.

Concepts such as these would serve as an invaluable resource to faculty members, especially those new to teaching online. Creating a central repository for faculty members to share and collect resources may serve as a community for online pedagogical strategies.


The Community of Inquiry website:

Garrison D, Arbaugh J. Researching the community of inquiry framework: Review, issues, and future directions. Internet & Higher Education [serial online]. July 2007;10(3):157-172. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed August 29, 2011.

Arbaugh, J.B., Cleveland-Innes, M., Diaz, S.R., Garrison, D.R., Ice, P., Richardson & Swan, K.P. (2008). Developing a community of inquiry instrument: Testing a measure of the Community of Inquiry framework using a multi-institutional sample. The Internet and Higher Education. 11 (3-4), 133-136.

Ashanti Morgan

About Ashanti Morgan

Ashanti Morgan is a Senior Instructional Technology Consultant and Project Lead for the Global Learning Experience (GLE) initiative at DePaul University. She also teaches computer productivity courses online in the School for New Learning. Ashanti has been working in the instructional design industry for over a decade in a variety of sectors including higher education, K-12, and non-profit. In her current role at DePaul, she manages faculty training and course development for the GLE program, an initiative that exposes students to intercultural exchanges while collaborating virtually with students abroad. She also provides instructional design expertise to faculty in a variety of disciplines across the university. Ashanti earned her master’s degree in Instructional Technology from Northern Illinois University. She also obtained her bachelor’s degree in Organizational & Corporate Communication from Northern Illinois University. To learn more about Ashanti, visit her personal website

2 thoughts on “Constructing Effective Online-Learning Environments via the Community of Inquiry (CoI) Framework

  1. As an upcoming Instructional Designer, it is important for me to gain as much assistance as possible. With 10 years of face-to-face teaching experience, I face a difficult task of transforming these skills into online teaching. Your article suggests that as an instructional designer I must be able to help those new to online teaching. Creating strategies that are can be easily used will aid in the transition.

  2. Hi Daphne,

    The role of an instructional designer, in my experience, is contingent upon the expectations of the organization and the job’s description which details how much or how little you’re involvement with helping teachers acclimate to an online environment.

    If you are charged with helping professors new to instructing online, you may encounter the task of ensuring that the course design meets instructional design standards, is cohesive, and lends itself to interactions amongst the learners, content, and instructor. Upon completion of the course design and development, faculty may also pose questions about course delivery (i.e., strategies to initiate/facilitate the course, etc.).

    In terms of strategies that aid in the transition, if time permits, having some form of an introductory training to the learning management system (if applicable) coupled with creating an outline of the course design would be ideal.

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